As we’re seeing more and more these days, historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are experiencing a renaissance in popular culture as raised awareness of these institutions and the communities they serve and educate have placed them back at the forefront of educational discussions.
While the increased awareness has been a welcomed development for HBCUs, there is still a wide gap in getting students to these schools and completing their degrees, with money being the driving force behind these issues.
College graduation rates for Black students are currently at a shockingly low 42%. More than 60% of Black college students drop out before completing their degree programs because of student loan debt, compared to 43% of white students. Also, the average student loan debt after 20 years is 18 times higher for Black students than for their White counterparts, which blocks pathways to financial solvency (homeownership, investments, etc.).
College is more expensive now than ever before. Providing aspiring students with the right financial resources and foundation to focus solely on their studies with minimal or no worries about future student loan debt, along with the right guidance to navigate their college experience, is essential if we are to prepare the next generation of Black professionals.
Once the funding inequities and disparities are taken care of, the next step is providing young people with solid mentorship that allows them to see beyond their current circumstances and worldview, inspiring them to reach their full potential. This is what we hope to accomplish through 5 Strong as we support students in the metro Atlanta and Houston areas and help Black students make the transition from high school to college successfully.
As an educator, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness how my students’ lives have changed for the better thanks to the proper education and nurturing that HBCUs provide, especially to those without outstanding test scores who have the potential and the desire to become great students and positive members of society. 5 Strong contributes to that legacy, and prepares students for college, by fostering key partnerships with HBCUs to provide students with full-tuition scholarships and access and connection to mentors that help students get to and through college.
We have a team of educators with more than 30 years of individual experience that help students decide whether 5 Strong can help them achieve their goals. Once we identify those students, we build teams of 5 scholars and provide bimonthly College Ready Prep Sessions, in addition to working with participating HBCUs to arrange scholarships and admission as a 5-scholar cohort. The 5 Strong team provides monthly cohort meetings and ongoing support to these students as they prepare for the next and exciting step in their lives’ journeys.
Supporting organizations such as 5 Strong and others like us who provide mentorship and financial relief for HBCU students can only strengthen our communities and the universities our students are attending. The African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” holds more weight now than ever before. By creating a strong village, we can raise strong and successful children to make a positive impact on the world at large and in their communities.
Andrew Ragland is an educator with 26 years of experience in teaching and school counseling. He is also the founder of the 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation, which provides HBCU students with full-tuition scholarships and the mentorship and support they need to attend and finish college.
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